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Lawyers gear up for legislative election

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post listed the wrong candidate in House District 137. John F. Black, former in-house counsel for City Utilities in Springfield, was the Republican candidate facing Democratic attorney candidate Raymond Lampert. We regret the error.

Because Black is a lawyer, the numerical analysis in the original story has been revised.

Also, Matt Sain, the Democrat who won the House District 14 race, has earned his law degree but has not yet been licensed to practice law. He is currently a law clerk at Bautista LeRoy.

 

Missouri voters go to the polls on Nov. 6 to pick the next Missouri Legislature and, with it, a new crop of lawyer-legislators.

A review of campaign biographies, news stories and bar records by Missouri Lawyers Weekly shows a total of 36 lawyers running for seats in the Missouri House and Senate. Although there’s no telling with certainty what the election will bring, the Senate appears likely to increase its lawyer ranks, while the number in the House could shrink.

Following the 2016 election, the 163-member House had 22 lawyers, while the 34-member Senate dipped to a historical low of just two attorneys.

Lawyers once made up as much as 38 percent of the legislature, peaking in the first years of the 20th century, according to figures maintained by The Missouri Bar. But since 1976, that percentage rarely has exceeded 15 percent.

The Missouri Bar doesn’t back individual candidates, but the organization touts the importance of having lawyers serve in the legislature, both to understand the workings of the legal system and to help ensure laws are well-drafted.

Ray Williams, president of The Missouri Bar, said the bar encourages lawyers to be involved in public service, whether that’s on a school board or in the state legislature.

“The legislature is a very diverse group, but there certainly is value in having lawyer-legislators of whatever the constituency decides the right number is,” he said.Missouri State Capitol

However the numbers fluctuate, many of the current legislature’s most prominent attorneys will be absent next year. Rep. Jay Barnes, who led the House investigation of former Gov. Eric Greitens, is term-limited. Rep. Robert Cornejo was recently appointed to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. Assistant House Majority Floor Leader Kevin Austin will become the Greene County treatment court commissioner. And House Speaker Todd Richardson was named last week as the new director of MO HealthNet.

Senate

The Senate will have at least one lawyer, and it could have as many as five. Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, the sole practicing attorney in the body, is midway through his second four-year term and isn’t on the ballot this year. The only other senator with a law degree is Sen. Bob Onder, R- Lake Saint Louis, a physician who doesn’t practice law. Onder faces a challenge this year from Democrat Patrice Billings.

Two Republican lawyers are running for open seats that previously were held by Republicans. In the 32nd District, Bill White, a Republican state representative and lawyer from Joplin, is running for the seat vacated by Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard. White faces Democrat Carolyn McGowan.

In the 34th District, Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican lawyer in Parkville, is running for the seat previously held by Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. Luetkemeyer faces Martin T. Rucker II, a former professional football player and son of a former state representative.

One incumbent senator faces a challenge from an attorney. Robert Butler, a Democrat from Barnhart and a workers’ compensation lawyer, is seeking to unseat Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial.

House

A total of 29 House races feature attorney candidates. If all incumbents win and no seat switches parties, 19 lawyers would sit in the House — a drop from current levels. At minimum, the House will feature seven lawyers — five seats sought by lawyers are unopposed, and races for three seats feature a lawyer facing a lawyer, so one of them is certain to win.

Lawyer v. Lawyer

One of those lawyer-on-lawyer contests is in District 14 in northern Kansas City. Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City and a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, faces a challenge from Democrat Matt Sain, a law clerk at personal-injury firm Bautista LeRoy.

In District 87 in St. Louis. Democrat Ian Mackey, formerly of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and ArchCity Defenders, is running against Steven G. Bailey, a Republican lawyer and retired University of Missouri-St. Louis business professor. Robert W. Warbin of the Green Party is also on the ballot.

In District 137, Republican John F. Black, former in-house counsel for City Utilities in Springfield, squares off with Raymond Lampert, an employment lawyer in Springfield.

Lawyer challengers

Twelve other lawyers are vying to join the House in 2019. Most face uphill battles, including six who are running against incumbents:

  • In District 50, Democrat Michela Skelton, a former Senate staff lawyer and a distant cousin of former U.S. Congressman Ike Skelton, is challenging Rep. Sara Walsh. Walsh and Skelton previously squared off for the Columbia-area seat in a special election last year.
  • In District 88, Republican Lloyd Nolan, a solo practitioner, is challenging Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis. Libertarian Stephen Johnson also is on the ballot.
  • In District 97, attorney Mary Elizabeth Coleman is challenging Rep. Michael Revis, a Democrat who narrowly won the Jefferson County seat in a special election earlier this year.
  • In District 99, attorney Mike LaBozzetta of Ballwin faces Rep. Jean Evans, R- Manchester.
  • In District 103, St. Charles County attorney Jim Klenc, a Democrat, is running against Rep. John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon.
  • In District 149, Bill Burlison is challenging Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville. Burlison, a lawyer who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1980, also ran against Rone in 2014.

Four other attorney candidates, all Democrats, are seeking seats currently held by Republicans:

  • In District 42, Joseph Widner, a newly minted lawyer from Montgomery City, faces Republican Jeff Porter.
  • In District 60, Democrat Sara Michael, a family-law attorney at Carver & Michael in Jefferson City, faces Republican Dave Griffith.
  • In District 152, Robert L. Smith, a lawyer in Poplar Bluff, is running against Republican Hardy Billington.
  • In District 153, Matt Michel, a Democrat and lawyer in Fairdealing, faces Republican Jeff Shawan.

Two lawyer-candidates hope to succeed House members of the same party:

  • In District 18, Wes Rogers, a Democrat and attorney, is running for the seat recently left vacant when Democrat Lauren Arthur was elected to the state Senate. Rogers is a former Clay County prosecutor and now practices at Rogers Law in Kansas City. Rogers faces Clay County’s Republican public administrator, Sarah Mills.
  • In District 59, Rudy Veit, an attorney at Carson & Coil in Jefferson City, is running as a Republican to succeed Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City. Linda Ellen Greeson, a retired teacher, is the Democratic candidate.

Incumbents

Nine incumbent lawyers face elections against non-lawyer challengers: Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty; Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis; Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres; Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury; David Gregory, R-St. Louis; Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield; Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon; Curtis Trent, R-Springfield; and Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.

Shoo-ins

Three incumbent lawyer-legislators — Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson; Rep. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis; and Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis — are unopposed.

Two other lawyers will be new to the House in 2018 and face no opposition on the November ballot. Robert Sauls, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor, will represent District 21 in Independence. In District 154 in southern Missouri, David Evans, a former 37th Circuit judge, is running unopposed.

Lawyer-legislators for 2019

Senate

Minimum: 1

Maximum: 5

Likely*: 4

House

Minimum: 7

Maximum: 29

Likely*: 18

*Assumes all incumbents win and no seat switches parties. The Senate has 34 members. The House has 163 members.